The Dallas Cowboys have a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn. While this certainly feels like the best decision that the team could have made as far as available options, the reality is that the true work is just beginning.
Quinn will be tasked with figuring things out in Dallas and has a handful of promising (being a bit generous there) players to start with. There is no question that he has an elite talent in DeMarcus Lawrence and a potential rising star in Trevon Diggs. There are other things to be excited about like Randy Gregory and Donovan Wilson, plus there is the promise that both Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore showed this past season.
It remains to be seen whether the Cowboys will pick up Leighton Vander Esch’s option (which feels likely) and/or make some sort of decision on Jaylon Smith. Whatever the case, there is no doubt they are going to need to add players if they want Quinn to have any shot of realizing the potential that he did with the Seattle Seahawks defense he helped get to two Super Bowls. That group was filled with some of the best talents of the decade.
Here are some soon-to-be free agents that have a history with Dan Quinn
The NFL is so often a league about who you know; generally people flock to familiarity because it is a feeling of ease, and we have seen that be the case when it comes to both coaches and players throughout the league.
A year ago when the Cowboys first hired Mike McCarthy and he filled out his staff, we discussed five potential would-be additions for the team that had history with McCarthy, Mike Nolan, and special teams coordinator John Fassel. Ultimately the Cowboys gave us a 40% success rate in the end as they signed both Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Greg Zuerlein; at least the latter worked out.
Dan Quinn is the only new face on staff for now (a new defensive line coach is needed after Jim Tomsula’s dismissal that followed Nolan’s), and as someone who was a head coach for most of the last five years there are a few players who are set to hit the open market with a previous connection to the new defensive coordinator.
Keanu Neal and/or Damontae Kazee
While the prospects of Donovan Wilson certainly are interesting for the future, the Cowboys would still be wise to give themselves some options at safety. Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee are at the very least one or two options.
Neal is still just 25 years old (his rookie contract is what is expiring), but he has only played 19 games since 2018 due to injuries. Kazee is also on an expiring rookie deal but only played in four games this past season. Needless to say they are both likely going to be looking for situations to restart their careers to a degree, and where else than one of the more visible teams in the league?
Damontae Kazee tied for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2018 (seven) so he has far more experience generating turnovers than most Dallas Cowboys safeties are concerned. While neither of these options are likely going to cause fans to jump up and down, they would be legitimate options at an important position.
We know that the Cowboys have a promising piece to build around at cornerback in Trevon Diggs, but they are going to need a lot of players and have two corners on expiring deals (Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis).
Darqueze Dennard seems like a candidate to be a veteran presence for the Cowboys and a bridge to the future (especially if they do draft someone like Patrick Surtain in the first round). This is not the first time that we have devoted time here at BTB into wishing him onto the team’s roster, by the way. Putting a star on Dennard’s helmet has made sense for some time now given the shape of the cornerback position.
We know that Mike McCarthy is a big Analytics Guy™️ and that he places a level of importance on things like PFF grades. For what it’s worth, Dennard finished the season with a higher defensive grade for them than any Cowboys cornerback (66.0... Trevon Diggs was the closest at 62.7).
Richard Sherman and/or Earl Thomas
What is dead may never die and the Dallas Cowboys have another link to Earl Thomas in Dan Quinn. Perhaps 2021 is finally the year that things work out, but that does feel rather unlikely considering the events that led to his demise with the Baltimore Ravens.
Still, though, it is hard to deny the math of Thomas, Quinn, and the Cowboys. We have seen other players around the NFL become less radioactive when more time is put between their transgressions and whenever they finally find new teams, and given the history here it is fair to say that it is at the very least a possibility.
A move that feels a bit more likely is cornerback Richard Sherman. There is no doubt that Sherman’s best days were spent with Quinn in Seattle, but he has been a fairly alright option for the San Francisco 49ers since joining them, but he missed a majority of this season due to injury.
Perhaps the most valuable thing that Sherman can bring the Cowboys is a strong presence in the locker room as far as football is concerned. He is somebody who has accomplished far more than any defender on the team and could go a long way in sharing that experience. Of course, Sherman has openly expressed some thoughts concerning Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in the past, but perhaps time could alter this hypothetical as well.